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St. Francis Farm 
June 2018   

                      Spring arrived late all in a rush bringing wildflowers, migrating birds, visitors, and a definite end to our slow time.  Winter keeps many folks away but with spring Hope gets back for supper and conversation. We’re able to bring Marge to the farm without worrying she’ll be too cold in our barn or slip in the parking area. She enjoys the goat kid and rabbit litters, marsh marigolds and trout lilies. She walks with me around the pond and helps cut up seed potatoes for Joanna to plant. Ting comes with her son and her mother-in-law who is visiting from China. We walk along the woods road and around the pasture pond, looking at the wildflowers and listening to the frogs. Even Kevin, just turned 2, helps pick up pine cones and drop them in a bucket to clear them from the lawns. They all help plant potatoes, Kevin trying to use the shovel but finding it too big for him to handle. Alex, who came to the farm each week back when he was 8 or 9, comes by one afternoon with a 2-year-old niece, wanting her to see the animals and the toys. He points out things he remembers helping do twelve to fifteen years ago—the greenhouse we built and the oak tree he planted with Joe Morton.

            Screen-Free Week went well even though no families with children came to the farm. On Wednesday, April 25, Sarah VanNorstrand, our newest Director, worked with us to host a family dance at the Half-Shire Historical Society in Richland. She and Bob Nicholson called traditional dances while Eileen Kalfass, Zeke Smukler, and Zach played fiddle, guitar, and banjo. We had to coax some people to join in the dancing but all seemed to enjoy it once they got started. The callers and musicians, whom Joanna and Zach already knew from contradances in Oswego and Syracuse, had supper at the farm before the dance and I enjoyed meeting them. Various people expressed interest in doing this again.

            On Friday a couple from Liverpool and three women from Camillus came for a sunset nature walk having heard about it from the Empire magazine. Hepatica and spring beauty had just begun to bloom. We found a group of newts just transforming from the eft to the adult stage at the end of the pasture pond and red-backed salamanders under stones along the woods paths. Several woodcocks were calling as dusk fell and the avid birder in the group was pleased to get a good look at one when they began to fly before the dark had thickened. Sharing the farm with those who enjoy it helps us to see and appreciate it anew. 

            Sarah took perennial herbs and flowers I had divided and brought me a couple from her gardens. Then on Saturday Mike and Alice Littler came and took a van load of shrubs, herbs and flowers. Mike has come before to pick up bikes and parts for a community bike repair group in Rochester and has admired my gardens as they bloom through the seasons. He was looking forward to adding more color to his yard and I was happy to divide plants that needed it and not have to dump any behind the mailbox.

            Looking ahead, Stephanie, a WWOOF volunteer who has been working in Silicon Valley but is looking for a new direction, is scheduled for two weeks in June.  Jim, a retired engineer looking to get his hands dirty and do something useful, is scheduled for 2 weeks July into August. Nate, who spent a week with us last summer and wrote for the September newsletter, hopes to come back for a visit in July. We could still use local help maintaining old trails and making new ones, weeding and planting and harvesting.  

--by Lorraine

Zach's Work

This spring has been slower and later than usual in arriving, and everything is a bit delayed.  Our maple sugar season was unusually long; I set taps on February 14th and the last boil was in mid-April.  On a Monday in late March I was boiling sap and while I was in the kitchen chopping onions to freeze the sugar house caught fire and burned down.  By the time I got there the fire was too well established to be put out.  We already had made 7 gallons of syrup by that time, of the 8 or 10 we usually try to make.  I cut some trees in the pine plantation that afternoon as part of the ongoing thinning process and by the end of the week I had rebuilt the frame and put up the roof of the new sugar house.  The following week I put up the cupola and covered three of the walls, but now I have not worked on it for several weeks and it is still uncompleted.  It is slightly larger than the old one, and is built on posts set in the ground instead of being bolted to the concrete slab like the old one.  The slab measures about 8 by 12 feet and is almost the only remaining vestige of the old dairy barn that used to be there a long time ago.  The new building is 10 by 12 feet, which will allow more room for storage, and has an insulated metal chimney which I hope will prevent fires from happening in the future.  I also bought a new pan, since the old one was damaged in the fire.  I had thought about replacing the old pan before as it was not entirely satisfactory, but this incident gave me a reason to do it.   The evaporator itself was undamaged.  

            This winter we burned all of the wood in the main woodshed and the backup woodpile out in the new building, but we had enough to get through.  I had filled the auxiliary woodshed with heavy firewood last year, and that turned out to be a good thing as we still had some fairly cold weather after the backup wood was gone.   Normally that wood is supposed to last through the summer but this year it’ll run out earlier.  I’ve begun stacking pine slab wood in the winter chicken coop to be burned later in the summer, by which time it will be dry enough.  I am planning to redesign the auxiliary woodshed this summer so that it will no longer have an almost-flat roof.  This will involve some unusual geometry where the two woodsheds meet, but given the locations of the buildings there isn’t a normal-looking way to do the job.  I wasn’t able to start cutting firewood this year until late April as the snow lingered in the woods later than usual.  I finished filling the main shed in early May, and will rebuild the backup wood pile over the summer as I am cutting hardwood logs at the sawmill and need a place to put the slabs.  

            Lumber sales at the sawmill have been spotty this year, but we do still sell some.  We’ve sold a couple of nightstands locally so far. I only ended up getting three completed this winter but I hope to make more when time permits.  They’re a good way to use up some of the lumber that nobody wants at the sawmill, since they’re made from pretty short pieces.  I also sold some hickory firewood to someone who uses it for smoking meat.  Hickory seems to be worth a bit more than other species of firewood.  We have a lot of areas where trees of poor quality should be thinned out to allow better trees more room to grow, and we have more firewood in the woods than we need for our own use here.

            We bought some day-old chicks again this spring and my mother designed a coop for them to move into once they got big enough in April.  Our old chick coop was built low to the ground and moved around a compost bin, but the new one is built above a compost area, and the only part that has to be moved regularly is the grass run, which is quite light.  The chicks are doing well and will stay in this coop until they start to lay and in the fall they will move into the larger chicken coop.   We got our piglet in mid-May, but this year it was only 5 weeks old and was able to squeeze through the holes in the wire fence on the main pigpen and escape twice.  I have built a smaller movable pen out of pallets with some old chicken wire to cover the gaps between the boards, and the piglet has not been able to escape.  In a few weeks once it has gained some size I will put it back in the regular pen. 


Farm update (written May 16)      by Joanna

     This spring has brought the usual mix of frustrations and delights.  Some of the frustrations come from my mistakes; some are beyond our control, and likely to increase year by year as the climate grows less stable. The goodness also comes from sources beyond our control or comprehension, though we are learning to work in a way that makes it easier for that goodness to bear fruit.

     Most years I plant peas and early greens in late March when the snow comes off the garden, and potatoes in mid-April when the dandelions bloom. This year the snow melted off in April and the dandelions didn’t bloom until early May. Peas, lettuce and spinach are still very small, and we didn’t have asparagus until the second week of May.  But the greenhouse vegetables are thriving.  We’re enjoying salads with lettuce from the greenhouse pots and the cold frame. I’ve transplanted kale seedlings out.  Pepper and eggplant seedlings are already getting big for their pots, but I can’t set them out until June when we’re reliably frost-free. I planted three successions of tomatoes as usual, started putting them outside to harden off in the warmish weather of mid-April, and had to bring them back into the greenhouse for one cold week. Some older leaves died of sunscald and windburn when I put them back out, but their centers are live, dark green and growing fast. I transplanted the biggest seedlings out in early May and covered them during frosts. The weather turned dry so we set the drip irrigation up early.

    Last year our goat Dora gave birth to two dead kids and one live one. I had to pull them all out and she was miserable.  Remembering that, I was nervous about this year’s kidding. But on May 2 our goat Amada gave birth to one live and flourishing kid, a doeling we’ve named Stripe. At first Stripe’s legs seemed too long for her to manage, but she’s figured them out now and spends much of her time practicing sideways hops and fancy kicks. Our two experienced mother rabbits gave birth to healthy litters in early April and they're all growing well. The first new mother to give birth this season had her six kits in the nest box, not on the wire, and she fed them well. The next new mother bore ten kits just before the weather turned much warmer; apparently the combination stressed her immune system.  She stopped eating and developed other symptoms. We pulled her cage out of the main rabbit shed in case she was contagious and offered her immune-boosting herbs.  She gradually regained her appetite. The kits were undersized; we lost 2 to underfeeding, 3 more when I took off the front of their nest box too early and they crawled out of the box and then out through the wall of the cage, which they were still small enough to fit through. She’s feeding the last 5 adequately.  We’re finally able to feed all the rabbits all the green stuff they want—usually that begins in April too, but the late spring delayed things.

         We’ve also been enjoying wild foods that I didn’t have to plant or water or tend.  The fiddleheads came up prolifically in early May; we harvested enough for several good meals, but they were too far grown to eat in less than a week. The wild leeks grew large enough to harvest in early May and are still good. We feed some raw to our goats to keep parasites down, and add others to our stirfries so we can savor their fresh sweet taste.

What Good News?             by Joanna

          St. Francis Farm’s mission is to live a sustainable life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles as an alternative to the consumer culture.  It’s uncomfortable to invoke the Gospels now, not because Christians are being persecuted, but because Christianity is being publicly invoked by powerful people across the theological spectrum to justify the worst excesses of the consumer culture and to attack people who are already struggling.

         President Trump has brought a new prominence to what its detractors call the Prosperity Gospel. Paula White, head of his evangelical advisory committee, urged people to offer their first day, week or month’s worth of earnings in the New Year to God (by donating them to her ministry), promising those who obeyed that their prosperity and power would have life and be resurrected. Joel Osteen, who has praised the President, told Oprah “There’s a belief that... you’re supposed to be poor and you’re supposed to show your humility. I don’t see the Bible that way... Jesus died that we might live an abundant life... I can’t be a big blessing to other people if I’m poor.” This Gospel says that God’s taking care of everything. The world is just. Faith and goodness lead to wealth and success. All we have to do is enjoy what’s ours.  The stuff we consume comes from God, who wants us to have it. We don’t have to consider how our wealth is related to other people’s poverty or how our consumption affects the created world.  EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said “The biblical world view... is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we've been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” and contrasted this to the godless Left who want to refrain from using what is obviously ours. He advocates extracting fossil fuels as fast as we can and removing safety standards. This ignores the Biblical assertion that the earth is the Lord’s, and that the Lord created all living creatures, blessed them and called them good.

         Another problematic version of Christianity is proclaimed by people with a very different view of the world. Some of these call themselves the Church Militant, wresting the phrase away from its original sense. They don’t believe that the world is safe and just. They believe that our cherished traditions are being attacked by the Powers of Darkness.  The self-styled Church Militant group’s stated mission is to fight the devil and spread the true (Catholic) faith: “Christians were born for combat,” they write.  The balance of stories on their site suggests the Devil is chiefly at work in LGBT people, Muslims and immigrants, and God wants us to exclude those people and all those who defend them. President Trump’s booster Steve Bannon proclaims a similar message, arguing that “the Judeo-Christian West is in a crisis” in which capitalism, national heritage and Christianity are under attack. Commentator Pat Buchanan expands on this: “The European and Christian core of our country is shrinking... America is locked in a cultural war for the soul of our country.” He sees this war going on elsewhere in the world as well, saying “Poles fall on their knees to pray to the Virgin Mary to spare them from threats of an Islamic future,” and describing the arrival of Muslim refugees as “the invasion of the continent along the routes whence the invaders came centuries ago.” Evangelical Franklin Graham says that care for refugees isn’t a biblical issue, and that Christians must guard against Muslims infiltrating and taking over our Christian nation. They ignore how Muslim immigrants help their Christian neighbors, how both great harm and great good have been done in the name of Christianity and also in the name of Islam, and how our nation’s violence and greed contribute to the violence refugees flee. They also ignore Biblical accounts of how Jesus and his parents were refugees, and how Jesus’ death was sought by religious leaders trying to protect the purity and safety of their institutions.

         The militant gospel and the prosperity gospel glorify people in power.  White says that God raises up leaders, and that God will silence every tongue that speaks against his chosen leader Donald Trump. Graham says that authority is ordained by God and should not be questioned, and that Black Lives Matter protesters are disrespecting God’s authority by failing to submit unquestioningly to the police.  They correctly quote Romans 13 and other passages. They ignore Jesus’ and Paul’s deaths at the hands of the Roman authorities, Moses’ example of civil disobedience, and the prophets’ example of challenging rulers.

            The Prosperity Gospel and the militant Gospel give different accounts of poverty, but they unite in glorifying wealth. Osteen says that faith brings wealth and people stay poor because they haven’t learned to have real faith and claim God’s blessings. In this version of reality, structural injustice is irrelevant. Poor people will get rich if they ask God in the right way; the rest of us aren’t responsible for them. Christians from many denominations claim that wealth comes from good character and positive attitudes, while poverty comes from bad character and defeatism. From there it’s a very short step to saying that we shouldn’t help people in need because they’ve brought their troubles on themselves. Some Christians quote “He that works not shall not eat,” ignoring what Jesus said about coming to us in the hungry (and also ignoring the fact that some people work hard but don’t earn enough to live on). Bannon explains that capitalism and Christianity naturally work together for the divine purpose of creating wealth; he ignores “Woe unto you who are rich...” He and Buchanan express concern for poor white Christians born in the US and say that we must help them—by excluding poor people of other faiths and ethnic groups who might compete with native-born Christian whites for jobs.  Apparently poor people of non-European descent (like Jesus) and people born outside the US (like Jesus) are not our responsibility.

         At bottom, the ‘good news’ of both theologies seems to be that God wants us to preserve our power, possessions and privileges.  The Prosperity Gospel urges us to revel in our personal good fortune. The militant gospel urges us to band together with People Like Us to preserve our privileges against vulnerable people who are Not Like Us.   

         But I believe that Jesus’ words and life call us to let go of our possessions and privileges. To give freely. To see God in neighbors and strangers. To acknowledge and remedy our own harmdoing before we try to correct others. To love and forgive enemies. To die to ourselves. The good news I believe is that God loves us and God remains in us and with us, always.  This means that Christ lives, suffers and dies in every person hurt by our injustices. It also means that Christ lives in us, bringing strength and compassion in our sufferings, bringing the chance of repentance and forgiveness in our wrongdoing, bringing joy. 

         This Gospel is still proclaimed across the same wide range of traditions as the Prosperity Gospel and the Militant Gospel. Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills... To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own,”  and in The Church of Mercy, “Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but of having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst.” Evangelical public theologian Jim Wallis writes, “Where is Jesus in your celebration of a ban that denies shelter to refugees and rejects our Muslim neighbors around the world...? Jesus taught us that when we welcome the stranger, we are also welcoming him (Matthew 25), and the Bible tells us that in the Spirit all divisions are conquered (1 Corinthians 12),” and also “When the voice of God is invoked on behalf of those who have no voice, it is time to listen. But when the name of God is used to benefit the interests of those who are speaking, it is time to be very careful.”  Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes,  “Our God is a God who has a bias for the weak, and we who worship this God, who have to reflect the character of this God, have no option but to have a like special concern for those who are pushed to the edges of society...We must be where Jesus would be, this one who was vilified for being the friend of sinners,” and “When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.”

Nature Notes                by Lorraine

Woodland wildflowers bloomed in a short burst, starting late and fading as the trees leafed out. Trout lilies were especially plentiful and marsh marigolds keep spreading into more wet spots.

We saw lots of steelhead trout in the little tributary stream (and saw lots of fishermen from April into May). Joanna spotted a mink running along the far side of the pond before the leaves came out and saw a barred owl close up one evening when she was out gathering ramps and fiddleheads. On an early morning walk I met a raccoon in the gap where the path turns from the field across the end of the pasture pond. We heard the first spring peepers and wood frogs in mid-April and then they went quiet in the cold. When the peepers started again they were soon joined by other frogs, even the bullfrogs chiming in by mid-May.

We’ve heard at least four woodcocks displaying at dusk within a short distance from the barn. I look for nests, but try to remember that if I can’t find them, perhaps predators won’t either. Robins have 5 nests tucked around buildings and under equipment. Bluebirds, tree swallows and wrens are nesting in the boxes we put out.  Kingfishers have been patrolling the pond and stream. I spotted an oriole nest high in a big cottonwood on the first day of Joan’s annual visit from Maine. We saw scarlet tanagers, various warblers, sparrows, woodpeckers and finches. We enjoyed the songs of thrushes and glimpsed blue herons and wood ducks visiting the pond. I’ve seen more hummingbirds than usual, looking for flowers that have been slow to bloom.